Tuesday, October 23, 2007

#68 - A Farewell To Arms

Right now, I think I might just be in a Hemingway phase. I mean, I'm not daft in thinking that this is an original phase to be in, but I'm still so taken with his gorgeous house in Cuba, that my curiosity is now officially getting the better of me. I've seen how the man lived, now I can't get enough of knowing what the man wrote.

Annnywaay, I finished A Farewell to Arms this morning on the way to work, and while I agree it's a great piece of literature that I enjoyed very much, I perhaps might have to disagree with its position in the canon as the defining novel of the First World War. In my humble opinion, there are Canadian books that perhaps come closer to really bringing the experience of the war to life, like Timothy Findley's The Wars or Joseph Boyden's excellent Three Day Road, just to name two. But I'd have to say that the parts of the book that I found most effective were those scenes of Frederic Henry, or "Tenente" as the boys call him, in the war zones. The love story, while moving, especially in its tragic conclusions, didn't feel as authentic as the parts of the book when bombs are exploding and men are heading up to the "show."

As we get closer to Remembrance Day, I seem to get the urge to learn more and more about the First World War, and Americans in the war in particular. My great-grandfather, G.H. Copeland, came to Canada from Ohio to get into the show himself, and I often think of him running in the trenches with Faulkner or winding up meeting Hemingway on his Red Cross ambulance, although I know G.H. wasn't in Italy, but mainly in France. Maybe there's a book in there somewhere?

Up next in my Hemingway phase: The Old Man and the Sea.

Currently reading: Anne Enright's gut-wrenching Booker-winning The Gathering.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The novel on my desk beneath its 1001 Books entry.


Kerry said...

Do you think this book deserves a different sort of status from the other books you mentioned though, due to its closeness to the war, being a primary source in a way? I am not sure what I think of this exactly, and I've not read the other two books you've mentioned, but I wonder if either of them *could* have been written by someone who'd actually been there...

hip_ragdoll said...

You make an excellent point - and yes, that's why I think the parts of the book, the "classic" aspects of the novel, are the parts that deal with the war. But to some extent, it's a love story, and please forgive me literary gods, but not a very good one. The female character is ridiculous to my 21st century eyes, and tragic, and their dialogue made me roll my eyes more than once. If I could separate the timelessness of the scenes that take place in the war, the stuff that Hemingway saw first hand, then I was riveted, but so much of the book takes place between the two lovers that doesn't come close to the achievements of the parts of the prose that deal directly with the war. Does that make any sense?

b*babbler said...

I've never read A Farewell to Arms, I'm embarrassed to admit. However, I did think that Three Day Road was one of the best books I read last year.

Maylin said...

There are lots of great WWI novels that cover the American experience that you might enjoy. Willa Cather won the Pulitzer with One of Ours. Faulkner wrote Soldier's Pay. I quite like Hemingway's In Our Time which references the war. E.E. Cummings wrote a terrific novel called The Enormous Room which is unlike any war novel I've read. Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front deals very much with how the Americans were perceived in the war by the French. John Dos Passos wrote Three Soldiers which is also a classic. One of the BEST WWI books ever written by an American is alas out of print - The Forbidden Zone by Mary Borden, but it can be found sometimes in used bookstores or in libraries.